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Sunday, July 24, 2016

HIGH ANXIETY (1977)

No one knew it at the time, but this scattershot comedy, a Hitchcockian pastiche spoof, was the wrong-way pivot in Mel Brooks’ output as writer/director. The sixth of only eleven titles, it rode in on high expectations after BLAZING SADDLES/’74 and YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN/’74 to an underwhelming reception. (In-between, SILENT MOVIE/’76 made little noise.) No doubt, Mel’s biggest mistake was giving himself the leading role, but that might have worked had the film delivered on its promise of parody Hitchcock & comic mayhem. Instead, the usual overlit Brooks mess of hit-and-miss gags. (There’s exactly one shot in the whole pic that looks like real Hitchcock. Distinctive in color & composition, it features a phone booth with a blue band at the top, situated incongruously on a grassy knoll with the rust-orange Golden Gate Bridge as backdrop.) The travestied set-pieces (VERTIGO; SPELLBOUND; THE BIRDS; PSYCHO) have all the visual allure of tv sketch comedy. Same for a lot of the acting, straight out of a Carol Burnett Show movie burlesque. Compared to the clever fun Brooks & Co. had aping the old b&w Universal Horror films in YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN, this comes off as a series of missed opportunities. Even when Brooks does find his groove, as in the Sinatra-like stylings of the title song, the bit feels shoe-horned in. And with Madeline Kahn, one of the great comic song stylists of her generation on hand (hell, on his lap!), Mel couldn’t come up with a cockeyed QUE SERA SERA for her to sing?

DOUBLE-BILL: Brooks’ remaining pics are more miss than hit. HISTORY OF THE WORLD/’81 has some worthwhile routines, and SPACEBALLS/’87 was funny enough (in its juvenile manner) to turn into a video hit after flopping theatrically. But little else.

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